Writing a column about the possibility of the topic of the column being moot by the time it hits print, or even while it’s being written, is a novel experience even for This Space.
But that’s where we are, as storm clouds increasingly crowd out the possibility of a 2020 college football season.
On Saturday, the Mid-American Conference, in many ways the little cousin of the Big Ten, announced it was canceling the 2020 season and considering a spring season. The MAC is the first FBS league to pull the trigger.
The Big Ten began fall camp Friday, meaning real football practice, in pads, with blocking and tackling. But the conference announced Saturday that its 14 members, including Penn State, will remain in the helmet-and-shorts phase of workouts.
Also Saturday, the Big Ten’s presidents met to consider their next move. According to the Detroit Free Press and the media outlets, commissioner Kevin Warren will advocate for a spring football season.
Last week a group of Big Ten players, calling themselves #BigTenUnited, published an open letter to the Big Ten and the NCAA explaining to the governing bodies what they want, in exchange for their participation in football amid a pandemic.
#BigTenUnited is part of College Athlete Unity, a group that claims to represent athletes over 23 intercollegiate sports and every major conference. It is, perhaps, as close as we’ve come to the forerunner of a real college players’ union.
It is unknown, at least publicly, how many Nittany Lions are affiliated with the group, although Penn State safety Lamont Wade has expressed support for it.
Among the group’s proposals: Temperature checks for anyone entering athletic facilities; coronavirus testing for players and staff the day of competition or within 24 hours for teams that can be quarantined, with results available at least two hours before game time; whistleblower protections for athletes or athletic personnel reporting suspected violations; and coverage for all out-of-pocket COVID-19-related medical expenses, long- and short-term.
Does any of that sound unreasonable? Would you be comfortable with your son playing college football (given the sport’s scope, roster sizes, travel considerations, etc.) in the absence of any of that?
Yet it doesn’t appear that universities are ready, if willing, to provide all of it.
Asked about covering COVID-19 health care costs for players in a press conference July 1, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour gave a lengthy answer that wasn’t quite, “yes.’’
She did admit that, “obviously, we have zero understanding, or very little understanding, of what any long-term impacts of COVID-19 might be.’’
It should be said that Penn State has apparently gone to enormous lengths to maintain player safety, and it’s announced testing results have been encouraging.
But there are 130 FBS schools. Most of them don’t have resources comparable to Penn State’s.
Last week 10 Colorado State football players and staff members told the Fort Collins Coloradoan coaches have told players not to report COVID-19 symptoms, threatened players with reduced playing time, and claim the school is altering contact tracing reports to keep players practicing.
The Colorado State story is now following a familiar path - the university has hired a law firm to investigate the program, and players and staff have come out in support of coach Steve Addazio. He said, he said.
But if whistleblower protections were in place at Colorado State, would those ten people have taken their story to a media outlet?
Unlike its Pac-12 counterpart, #BigTenUnited has not threatened to boycott the season.
It did, however, point out that, “We have started a dialogue in good faith with the Big Ten and hope that the NCAA will follow suit. Given the short time frame, and with our season at stake, this conversation must happen now.”
The season begins in three weeks. Unless something changed while I wrote this.